The Shildam Hall Tapes

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The conceit of a “soundtrack for an imaginary film” dates back at least as far as Gandharva by Beaver & Krause, although only the second half of that album was the imaginary soundtrack, and a rather vague one at that. (A variation on the Gandharva suite did become genuine soundtrack music, however, when Robert Fuest asked Gerry Mulligan to rework his sax improvisation for The Final Programme in 1973.) The imaginary soundtrack idea didn’t really catch on until the late 80s and early 90s, with serious efforts such as Barry Adamson’s excellent Moss Side Story emerging alongside an increasing and often lazy use of the term “imaginary soundtrack” as a descriptor employed by journalists writing about instrumental electronic albums.

The Shildam Hall Tapes is neither lazy nor mis-labelled being the latest in this year’s themed compilation albums from A Year In The Country, and a collection described as “reflections on an imaginary film.”

In the late 1960s a film crew began work on a well-funded feature film in a country mansion, having been granted permission by the young heir of the estate. Amidst rumours of aristocratic decadence, psychedelic use and even possibly dabbling in the occult, the film production collapsed, although it is said that a rough cut of it and the accompanying soundtrack were completed but they are thought to have been filed away and lost amongst storage vaults.

Few of the cast or crew have spoken about the events since and any reports from then seem to contradict one another and vary wildly in terms of what actually happened on the set. A large number of those involved, including a number of industry figures who at the time were considered to have bright futures, simply seemed to disappear or step aside from the film industry following the film’s collapse, their careers seemingly derailed or cast adrift by their experiences.

Little is known of the film’s plot but several unedited sections of the film and its soundtrack have surfaced, found amongst old film stock sold as a job lot at auction—although how they came to be there is unknown. The fragments of footage and audio that have appeared seem to show a film which was attempting to interweave and reflect the heady cultural mix of the times; of experiments and explorations in new ways of living, a burgeoning counter culture, a growing interest in and reinterpretation of folk culture and music, early electronic music experimentation, high fashion, psychedelia and the crossing over of the worlds of the aristocracy with pop/counter culture and elements of the underworld.

The Shildam Hall Tapes takes those fragments as its starting point and imagines what the completed soundtrack may have sounded like; creating a soundtrack for a film that never was.

Track list:
1) Gavino Morretti—Dawn of a New Generation
2) Sproatly Smith—Galloping Backwards
3) Field Lines Cartographer—The Computer
4) Vic Mars—Ext – Day – Overgrown Garden
5) Circle/Temple—Maze Sequence
6) A Year In The Country—Day 12, Scene 2, Take 3; Hoffman’s Fall
7) The Heartwood Institute—Shildam Hall Seance
8) David Colohan—How We’ll Go Out
9) Listening Center—Cultivation I
10) Pulselovers—The Green Leaves of Shildam Hall

I’ve always enjoyed this kind of thing when it’s done well, as in Barry Adamson’s case, so was already predisposed to the new collection even before hearing it. The cumulative effect is much better than anticipated, thanks in part to a few deviations from earlier A Year In The Country compilations. The opening piece is by Gavino Morretti, a newcomer to the AYITC stable, and a musician whose albums to date are all in the imaginary soundtrack sub-genre. Morretti provides a marvellous piece in the Goblin/Fabio Frizzi manner that effortlessly conjures a title sequence of mists, coloured filters and Art Nouveau typefaces.

The following contributions range from the spookily atmospheric (Sproatly Smith, A Year In The Country, The Heartwood Institute) to electronic numbers such as The Computer by Field Lines Cartographer which suggests some kind of paranormal investigation like those in The Stone Tape and The Legend of Hell House. The biggest surprise for me was David Colohan’s How We’ll Go Out which is another electronic work, and very different to his earlier folk-oriented compositions. If, like me, you’ve been missing the “ghost” quotient among the recent releases on the Ghost Box label, then The Shildam Hall Tapes is a very welcome substitute: sinister, perfectly-pitched and leaving enough gaps in the scenario for the imagination to operate. I’m no doubt biased towards the format but for me this is the best A Year In The Country compilation to date so I’m now wondering what the follow-up will be like.

The Shildam Hall Tapes will be available for pre-order at Bandcamp from 10th July, and released on the 31st.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Audio Albion
A Year In The Country: the book
All The Merry Year Round
The Quietened Cosmologists
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

All The Merry Year Round

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The appearance of the word “merry” in the title of this, the last in a series of themed compilations by A Year In The Country, rang alarm bells now that the end of the year is approaching. Christmas wretchedness isn’t the theme of the collection, however, “merry” in this case owes more to its prevalence in British folk culture:

All The Merry Year Round is an exploration of an alternative or otherly calendar that considers how traditional folklore and its tales now sit alongside and sometimes intertwine with cultural or media based folklore; stories we discover, treasure, are informed and inspired by but which are found, transmitted and passed down via television, film and technology rather than through local history and the ritual celebrations of the more long-standing folkloric calendar.

Track list:
1) United Bible Studies — Towards The Black Sun
2) Circle/Temple — Rigel Over Flag Fen
3) Magpahi — She Became Ashes and Left With the Wind
4) Cosmic Neighbourhood — Winter Light
5) Field Lines Cartographer — Azimuth Alignment Ritual
6) Polypores — Meridian
7) A Year In The Country — Tradition and Modernity
8) Sproatly Smith — Moons (Part 1)
9) Pulselovers — Tales Of Jack
10) The Hare And The Moon & Jo Lepine — I’ll Bid My Heart Be Still
11) Time Attendant — In a Strange Stillness
12) The Séance — Chetwynd Haze

Some of the previous entries in the year-long series have been more concerned with interstellar space than traditions and customs so All The Merry Year Round may be regarded as a return home, even if the opening number by United Bible Studies is entitled Towards The Black Sun. As with some of the label’s earlier compilations, extended drones and atmospherics by regular contributors Polypores and Time Attendant alternate with contemporary takes on the folk idiom by Magpahi, Sproatly Smith, and The Hare And The Moon, the latter offering an excellent rendition by Jo Lepine of the Scottish ballad I’ll Bid My Heart Be Still. This is another potent collection which doesn’t ignore the sinister potential of winter time, a quality I appreciate when recent offerings from the Ghost Box label have tended to be more box than ghost. The final piece on All The Merry Year Round is Chetwynd Haze by The Séance, a title that refers to ghost-story writer Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes, and a recording that provides an eerie and startling close to a collection mercifully free of seasonal cheer.

All The Merry Year Round will be released at the end of the month but is available for pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Quietened Cosmologists
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

From The Furthest Signals

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It’s been a busy year so far for A Year In The Country with two themed compilation albums being followed this month by a third, From The Furthest Signals. The latest theme is an intriguing one, taking as its starting point the erasing of broadcast tapes by British TV companies in the 1960s and early 1970s which destroyed hundreds of hours of dramas, concerts and other programmes. This was done as a money-saving measure (tape being expensive and reusable) at a time when the output of the BBC and the independent stations was regarded as mostly ephemeral and of little value. There was also a patronising class aspect to the practice: John Peel used to bitterly remind people that the BBC had saved its tapes of gardening shows while wiping concerts by the likes of Captain Beefheart.

Track list:
1) Circle/Temple – The Séance/Search for Muspel-Light
2) David Colohan – Brass Rubbings Club (Opening Titles)
3) A Year In The Country – A Multitude Of Tumblings
4) Sharron Kraus – Asterope
5) Time Attendant – The Dreaming Green
6) Depatterning – Aurora In Andromeda
7) Sproatly Smith – The Thistle Doll
8) Field Lines Cartographer – The Radio Window
9) Grey Frequency – Ident (IV)
10) Keith Seatman – Curious Noises & Distant Voices
11) Polypores – Signals Caught Off The Coast
12) The Hare And The Moon – Man Of Double Deed
13) Pulselovers – Endless Repeats/Eternal Return
14) Listening Center – Only The Credits Remain

All those wiped broadcasts may be lost down on Earth but they still exist somewhere in the halo of television and radio signals which is expanding into space. From The Furthest Signals is a speculation about the content of these remote signals, a tuning in to decayed transmissions and imagined broadcasts (that word—”broadcast”—being examined here in its widest possible sense). Some of the entries nod to fictional analogues: The Séance/Search For The Muspel Light by Circle/Temple is a reference to A Voyage to Arcturus, David Lindsay’s unique and remarkable science-fiction novel. Other entries like Brass Rubbings Club (Opening Titles) by David Colohan are suggestions for imaginary theme tunes. This is an excellent collection, one of the best to date from A Year In The Country with pieces ranging from the folk-oriented balladry of Sproatly Smith to the deteriorating electronics of Grey Frequency. The album ends with a number by Listening Center, Only The Credits Remain, whose weightless harmonies wouldn’t be out of place on Apollo by Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois.

From The Furthest Signals is out now in the familiar range of hand-crafted monochrome formats.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

Fractures

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Fractures is the latest musical anthology from A Year In The Country, and having been listening to an advance copy for the past couple of weeks I can say it’s as fine a collection as the label’s previous opus, The Quietened Village. The latter album encouraged a variety of artists to create pieces around the theme of lost or abandoned villages; the theme for Fractures fixates on a year rather than a location:

Fractures is a gathering of studies and explorations that take as their starting point the year 1973; a time when there appeared to be a schism in the fabric of things, a period of political, social, economic and industrial turmoil, when 1960s utopian ideals seemed to corrupt and turn inwards. […] Fractures is a reflection on reverberations from those disquieted times, taking as its initial reference points a selected number of conspicuous junctures and signifiers: Delia Derbyshire leaving The BBC/The Radiophonic Workshop and reflecting later that around then “the world went out of time with itself”. Electricity blackouts in the UK and the three day week declared. The Wicker Man released. The Changes recorded but remained unreleased. The Unofficial Countryside published. The Spirit Of Dark And Lonely Water released.

Track list:
1) The Osmic Projector/Vapors of Valtorr – Circle/Temple
2) The Land Of Green Ginger – Sproatly Smith
3) Seeing The Invisible – Keith Seatman
4) Triangular Shift – Listening Center
5) An Unearthly Decade – The British Space Group
6) A Fracture In The Forest – The Hare And The Moon ft Alaska/Michael Begg
7) Elastic Refraction – Time Attendant
8) Ratio (Sequence) – The Rowan Amber Mill
9) The Perfect Place For An Accident – Polypores
10) A Candle For Christmas/311219733 – A Year In The Country
11) Eldfell – David Colohan

This isn’t the first time a year has been isolated as a basis for a musical anthology but prior examples such as Jon Savage’s Meridian 1970 are invariably concerned with the musical scene alone. Fractures is different for trying to seize the essence of the year itself even if a number of the musicians involved may not have been alive in 1973.

The year has a resonance for me that I recounted in the memorial post for David Bowie. That summer was significant (and therefore memorable) for being warm, carefree and positioned between the end of junior school and the beginning of secondary school. The years after those few weeks were increasingly bad on a personal level so 1973 for me spells “fracture” in more ways than one. None of this can be communicated by Fractures, of course, the contents of which have more of a cultural focus: A Fracture In The Forest by The Hare And The Moon sets readings from Arthur Machen to music, while The Land Of Green Ginger by Sproatly Smith draws in part upon a TV film of the same name that was broadcast in the BBC’s Play For Today strand. As those Plays For Today recede in time they seem increasingly like a dream of Britain in the 1970s, reflecting back in a concentrated form much more of the nation’s inner life than you get from today’s Americanised fare. Another Play For Today, Penda’s Fen, was being filmed in the fields of England in the summer of 1973 so we can add the crack in the church floor to the catalogue of fractures. (And for an additional musical entry, I’d note the astonishing Fracture by King Crimson, not released until 1974 but most of the track was a live recording from Amsterdam in November of the previous year.)

Fractures is available from the usual sources such as Bandcamp but hard copies are also being distributed via the Ghost Box Guest Shop.